Bringing in an outside manager: Good or bad idea?

Diarmuid O’Flynn and Fintan O’Toole argue both sides of the debate

The best chance of success you have is to find someone from within

THE CASE AGAINST: Diarmuid O’Flynn

IS an outside manager a guarantee of success? The first – and too obvious – answer is no manager, inside or outside, guarantees success; the second answer is also in the negative – absolutely not.

An outside manager should be a manager of last resort. There are far too many people in this country (and not just in the GAA either) who decry tradition, but ask yourself – who were the most successful inter-county managers in hurling and football? Go well back the decades and you come across Jim ‘Tough’ Barry of Cork, Paddy Leahy of Tipperary, the cleric Tommy Maher in Kilkenny; come forward, and you meet Brian Cody of the modern-day Cats, and in football, the great Mick O’Dwyer, preceded in earlier successful decades of Kerry domination by the ever-innovative Eamonn O’Sullivan. Home grown, every one of them.

Look to so many of the breakthrough teams of the last few decades – Galway hurling, Cyril Farrell; Clare hurling, Ger Loughnane; Wexford hurling, Liam Griffin; Meath football, Seán Boylan; Donegal football, Brian McEniff; Derry football, Eamon Coleman; Down football, Pete McGrath; Tyrone football, Mickey Harte; Armagh football, Joe Kernan; the Limerick nearly-team of the mid 90s, Tom Ryan; the famine-ending Tipp team of the 1989, Babs Keating; likewise Cork in 1999, Jimmy Barry-Murphy. Against all that success you have what – Dermot Healy with Offaly in the 80s, John O’Mahony with Galway in 98/2001?

The lesson here, surely, is no matter whether you’re a big county or small, traditionally successful or not, you look to home first, second, third; you look long, you look well, because the best chance of success you have is to find someone from within. If that fails, and ONLY if that fails, should you look outside.

Limerick and Waterford meet tomorrow in the Munster championship senior hurling semi-final, Both have outside managers, Donal O’Grady and Davy Fitzgerald.

When Limerick went in search of a new manager at the end of last season you had a classic case for the outside manager argument; a county riven by division after a season of controversy – caused, ironically, by another outside manager. They needed a cool, objective head with no previous ties to any of the warring factions, and O’Grady fitted that bill. Could someone from inside the county have done the job? Absolutely, yes, but you’d have been hard-pressed to find a consensus candidate.

With Waterford, different story. When their previous manager left (irony of ironies, the same man as divided Limerick!), they could quite easily have gone for someone from within their own county. They didn’t, opted instead for one of the game’s youngest and most progressive coaches, former Clare All-Ireland winning keeper Davy Fitzgerald. Absolutely, yes, and several worthy candidates went forward, but the Waterford board went for Davy, who was already making waves at Fitzgibbon Cup level.

Will the appointments of O’Grady and Fitzgerald guarantee success for Limerick and Waterford? Some would argue Limerick have already enjoyed that success, winning division 2 and promotion to division 1, but no, they are no more guaranteed success than are Declan Ryan, Conor Cooney, Jack O’Connor, even Brian Cody. But I would argue the latter crew have the better chance of success. They are among their own, they have less to learn about their players, their mentality, they have a better chance of knowing, instinctively, the right buttons to press. Sometimes, the outside man is right; usually, he’s not.

Outside managers have spawned the greatest stories of recent times

THE CASE FOR: Fintan O’Toole

IT’S a photo lost in the crowded pages of the 2010 GAA album. In the wake of the Christy Ring Cup decider last June, Kerry’s John Egan is hunkered down on the Croke Park pitch, his hand pressed against his forehead to conceal the anguish after a one-point defeat to Westmeath. Beside him his young son sits with a small hurley and his tears illustrate that he shares his father’s pain.

That heart-wrenching image had a happy ending. Last Saturday at Croke Park John was snapped in mid-air, pumping his fist after scoring the goal that would propel his side to Christy Ring Cup success over Wicklow. For the Kerry players it was a day to savour and for their manager John Meyler, a testament to the work he has put in while traversing the N22 over the past two years.

In the debate that rages over the unsuitability of outside managers, consider what Meyler has achieved since taking over the reins of Kerry in 2009.

Successive All Ireland U21B titles, promotion to Division 2 of the league, consolidation and a first Christy Ring Cup title. Progress is all relative but that Kerry have made so much under the watch of the man with roots in Tacumshane and Togher is undeniable.

If Meyler is the least obvious successful outside manager story of 2011, then Anthony Daly is the prime candidate for the most. Whatever else the 2011 GAA season gives us, it at least has given us the first Sunday in May. That long-awaited Dublin hurling breakthrough in front of a Hill 16 bedecked in sky-blue finally took place as they claimed league honours in uplifting fashion.

That they did so with a Clare man at the helm, confirmed that it is wise for county boards to peer over their borders when appointing new bosses.

Dublin’s raucous success came four years after Waterford pipped Kilkenny for the county’s first league win in 44 years. His reign may have ended on a sour note but that victory, the provincial crowns and the consistency in challenging at the top demonstrated the progressive work that Justin McCarthy did.

Before him it was Gerald McCarthy who laid the Déise foundations and now it is Davy Fitzgerald who continues to ensure Waterford’s standards are not slipping.

Football is stockpiled with outsider success stories as well. Mick O’Dwyer has successfully toured the counties of Leinster, John O’Mahony has hopped over the border to end Galway and Leitrim’s famine and Martin McHugh brought deliverance to the Breffni county.

Success does not always have to be measured in senior championship trophies, however. John Evans was at the helm in April 2010 when Tipperary claimed a maiden Munster U21 title in Tralee and that night rivalled the sense of magic 12 months previous in Pearse Park when the senior side lifted the Division 3 league crown.

Already this summer Mickey Moran has ensured Leitrim have had a rare day of splendour and while they were vanquished that day, the Sligo faithful can be thankful to Kevin Walsh for claiming the scalps of Galway and Mayo last season.

That’s a persuasive book of evidence to throw at those who wail about the ruinous streak that outside inter-county managers are having on the GAA.

It is fine for the traditional counties who have a surplus of qualified and experienced candidates to shop local yet for the minnows that is not always the case. Drafting in an outsider provides the fresh voice and different expertise that many counties lack. Not carrying any political baggage from encountering players at club level is another bonus.

In the developing counties, players are inspired by a leader in the dressing-room who has been there, done that and has the medal in his pocket like a Daly, an O’Dwyer or a McCarthy.

Croke Park last Saturday proved that. And the stadium will bear witness to that belief again before the year is out.

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